2009 Football Game Preview: #7 Virginia Tech vs. #5 Alabama

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Saturday, September 5th, 2009, 8:00

TV: ABC

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Game Preview: #7 Virginia Tech vs. #5 Alabama


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com



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Since this game was announced on December 19, 2008, it’s been the biggest
thing on the minds of Virginia Tech fans. The Orange Bowl against Cincinnati was
just a minor distraction. This is the game Tech fans have been waiting for. It’s
a chance for the Hokies to prove themselves on national television against a
major opponent. It would help the perception of the program nationally, and it
would help the Hokies take that ever-elusive “next step.”

It won’t be easy, however. Alabama is a very talented football team,
particularly on defense. The Crimson Tide was ranked #1 for much of last season,
and they didn’t lose until Florida staged a fourth quarter comeback in last
December’s SEC Championship Game. The task is great, but the Hokies are capable.

The Alabama Offense

Need a crash course on the Alabama offense? Just pull out some game film on
the Virginia Tech offense when it’s executing as planned. Like the Hokies,
Alabama’s coaching staff believes in establishing the running game, grinding the
clock, physically demoralizing the opposition and working the playaction pass.
If you watched Alabama smack around Clemson last year, then you got a look at
what Frank Beamer’s ideal offense looks like. That’s the way he wants the Hokies
to play.

Most of the offensive players who laid that whipping on Clemson last year are
gone. The Tide lost seven full-time offensive starters, and they are breaking in
new offensive linemen and a new quarterback. Before getting into what Alabama
has coming back, let’s take a quick look at what they lost. Note that the Tide
used two-tight end formations last year.

John Parker Wilson, QB: John Parker Wilson was Alabama’s starting
quarterback. He threw for over 2,200 yards, with 10 touchdowns and eight
interceptions. He was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, and he holds
most significant passing records at Alabama.

Glen Coffee, RB: Coffee rushed for over 1,300 yards as a junior in 2008.
He declared early for the NFL Draft, and he is having an impressive preseason
with the San Francisco 49ers.

Nick Walker, TE: Nick Walker was a starting tight end, and he was second
on the team with 34 receptions.

Travis McCall, TE: McCall was a starting tight end and specialized in
blocking.

Nikita Stover, WR: Stover started five games at wide receiver.

Andre Smith, LT: Smith was a First Team All-American and the #6 overall
pick in the NFL Draft.

Antoine Caldwell, C: Caldwell was a First Team All-American and a Third
Round selection in the NFL Draft.

Marlon Davis, OG: Davis was a full-time starter at right guard for
Alabama last season.

Obviously that is a lot of talent and experience to lose. Alabama is
primarily a two-tight end formation team. With the loss of both starting tight
ends, as well as three of five offensive linemen, most of the Tide’s main
blockers must be replaced this year.

Those new players will be blocking for a new quarterback. Greg McElroy (6-3,
220, r-Jr.) takes over the Alabama offense with the departure of three-year
starter John Parker Wilson. McElroy has always shown flashes as a backup
quarterback, but he has never had the opportunity to prove himself as a starter.
He knows the system, and now he must prove he can execute it in an actual game.

McElroy is not only limited in experience in college, but he never had much
experience in high school, either. He played for powerhouse Southwest Carroll
High School in Texas. His team was the USA Today #1 team in the country in 2004.
He spent his first three years of high school playing behind Chase Daniel,
future Missouri star and Heisman Trophy Candidate.

McElroy started as a senior at Southwest Carroll and broke the Texas High
School record with 56 touchdown passes in a season. He had just nine
interceptions while throwing for over 4,600 yards.

Obviously McElroy is a natural passer who came up in a system that puts
emphasis on throwing the ball. He was originally a Texas Tech verbal commitment,
and that probably would have been a good fit for his ability. He will develop
into a very good quarterback for Alabama, but how good he will be in his first
career start remains to be seen.

Alabama is very limited behind McElroy. Star Jackson (6-3, 206, r-Fr.) and
Thomas Darrah (6-5, 227, r-So.) are splitting the #2 reps behind McElroy.
Jackson is a runner who is limited in the passing game. Darrah is a walk-on with
good size. Neither player is capable of beating Virginia Tech without a lot of
help, so McElroy must stay healthy in this game for the Alabama offense to have
success.

Alabama’s coaches will want to establish a running game, and they will be
breaking in a new starting tailback this year. Glen Coffee was very good, but he
will be replaced by Mark Ingram (5-10, 212, So.), who is also very good. Ingram
was outstanding as a true freshman last season, running for 728 yards while
averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns, which led the
team.

Ingram is a tough runner who can get yards after first contact. It will be
important for the Hokies to get penetration and stop Ingram before he can start
running downhill.

Alabama has several options behind Ingram. Terry Grant (5-10, 190, r-Jr.) is
a solid runner who has had a good preseason. Grant ran for just 88 yards in
2008, but he led the team with 890 yards on 190 carries in 2007. He is a quick
back who can be dangerous in the open field.

The most underrated back on the team is Roy Upchurch (6-0, 205, r-Sr.).
Upchurch has averaged 5.2 yards per carry throughout his career, but he has
never been completely healthy. He ran for 350 yards last year while averaging
six yards per carry, but he missed the latter part of the season after
sustaining a neck injury. He is one of four backs who could see action for the
Crimson Tide on Saturday.

The fourth back is true freshman Trent Richardson (5-11, 220, Fr.). He was a
5-star recruit and one of the top running backs in the nation. Richardson is a
strong runner, but his role early in the season will likely be limited.

The biggest threat on offense for Alabama is Julio Jones (6-4, 211, So.).
Jones was a freshman phenom in 2008, catching 58 passes for 924 yards. He is
obviously a very big target, and he is able to use his big body to screen off
defensive backs. Jones is very strong after the catch. He breaks a lot of
tackles, so it’s important for the Tech defensive backs to wrap up instead of
going for the big hit.

Look for Alabama to try and get Jones isolated on Stephan Virgil at some
point in the game, perhaps even on the first drive. Alabama knows the Hokies
sell out to stop the run early in the game, and they should counterpunch by
testing the Tech secondary. VT plays a lot of man-to-man coverage with their
boundary corner, and Alabama knows this. It’s easy to imagine the Tide going
playaction on their first possession and trying to hit Jones deep over Virgil.

Alabama’s other wide receivers are Marquis Maze (5-10, 179, r-So.), Mike
McCoy (6-3, 215, Sr.), Darius Hanks (6-0, 184, Jr.) and Earl Alexander (6-4,
216, r-Jr.). Along with returning tight ends Brad Smelley (6-3, 233, So.) and
Preston Dial (6-3, 245, r-Jr.), they did not equal the production of Julio Jones
last season.


Julio
Jones vs. Other Alabama Pass Catchers
(2008 statistics)

Name

Pos.

Rec.

Yards

TD
Mike McCoy WR 16 191 1
Marquis Maze WR 11 137 2
Earl Alexander WR 8 121 0
Darius Hanks WR 8 88 0
Brad Smelley H-Back 7 98 0
Preston Dial TE 1 8 0

Totals

51

643

3

Julio Jones

WR

58

924

4

Jones was the focal point of the passing game last year, along with tight
end Nick Walker, who graduated. There is some talent there, but so far it hasn’t
been productive. Mike McCoy is a big target, while Maze has very good quickness.
He is capable of big plays.

One player to keep an eye on is tight end Colin Peak (6-6, 255, r-Sr.). Peak
is a transfer from Georgia Tech who wanted out of Atlanta when Paul Johnson
brought in his new offense. He caught 25 passes for 248 yards at Georgia Tech in
2007. He should be a major asset to the Alabama passing game this year.

No one will be an asset in Alabama’s passing game if the Crimson Tide don’t
protect the quarterback.


Alabama Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Starts

LT

James Carpenter

6-5

300

Jr.

0

LG

Mike Johnson

6-6

303

Sr.

27

C

William Vlachos

6-2

294

r-So.

0

RG

Barrett Jones

6-4

289

r-Fr.

0

RT

Drew Davis

6-7

300

r-Jr.

14

Alabama lost two All-Americans and another solid starter off their offensive
line. Only two returning players have starting experience.

Left tackle James Carpenter is a JUCO transfer who will be playing in his
first 1-A football game. Barrett Jones played in three games as a true freshman
last year before taking a medical redshirt. William Vlachos is the most
experienced of the new starters, with all of nine games under his belt.

Overall,
Alabama’s starters have combined to play in just 68 career games, and 40 of
those were played by Mike Johnson. By contrast, Virginia Tech’s starting
offensive line has played in 102 career games. Sergio Render and Ed Wang have
combined for more games than Alabama’s entire line.

The Tide’s line does have talent, but they won’t be operating at 100%
efficiency so early in the season. The weak spot appears to be between center
and right guard, so expect Cordarrow Thompason to attack that gap relentlessly.

Mike Johnson is Alabama’s best offensive lineman. He can play tackle if
needed, but he is much better suited to guard. He has been in the playing
rotation since his freshman season, and he’s been a starter since he was a
sophomore. John Graves will be facing him across the line of scrimmage. If
Graves can hold his own, and Cordarrow Thompson can wreck havoc between Vlachos
and Jones, then Tech has an excellent chance to control the line of scrimmage.

Alabama will probably try to attack the Tech defense aggressively on the
opening drive, before Bud Foster has had a chance to make adjustments. Foster is
one of the best in the country at in-game adjustments, therefore the Tech
defense is most vulnerable to attack in the first couple of possessions of the
game. The Tide could come out throwing the ball against a Hokie defense that is
prepared to sell out against the run.

The Alabama Defense

This Alabama defense will easily be the best defense the Hokies face this
season. Their base defense is a 3-4, but they can also move around their
linebackers to run a 4-3, or give 5-2 looks. The can also bring up a safety to
put eight in the box.

The Hokies have seen somewhat similar defenses in the ACC. UVA runs a base
3-4, but it’s not designed to attack like the Alabama 3-4, and UVA doesn’t show
as many different fronts. Maryland has also likes to run a 4-3/3-4 defense.

The Hokies have had success moving the ball against UVA and Maryland, but
those teams don’t have the personnel that Alabama will bring to the Georgia
Dome. UVA is very limited, particularly on the defensive line, where their
backup noseguard is 245-lbs. Alabama’s defensive linemen have the perfect size
to run a 3-4, and their linebackers are the size of defensive ends.

In a 3-4 defense, it’s important to have defensive linemen who can occupy
blockers. Alabama has just that in noseguard Terrence Cody (6-5, 354, Sr.). Cody
made a big splash last year as a JUCO transfer. There is no center in the
country who can consistently block him one-on-one. He has to be double teamed,
which frees up Alabama’s outstanding inside linebackers to make plays.

Cody’s conditioning was an issue last year, and he had to be rotated a lot
with Josh Chapman (6-1, 313, r-So.). Chapman was very effective at the noseguard
spot as well. He and Cody combine to form a very impressive duo.

Alabama starting defensive end Brandon Deaderick (6-4, 306, r-Sr.) was shot
in the forearm on Monday night. The extent of the injury hasn’t been released,
and Alabama hasn’t commented on his status for Saturday’s game. Deaderick is a
very good defensive end who would be missed, but Alabama is fairly deep at that
position.

Luther Davis (6-3, 275, Jr.) played in all 14 games at defensive end last
season as Deaderick’s backup. Davis was a SuperPrep All-American in high school.
Another option is Marcell Dareus (6-4, 296, So.). Dareus was used as a defensive
end last season, as well as a noseguard in obvious passing downs. As a true
sophomore, his role should increase this year, and he’ll get a big chance on
Saturday night with Deaderick likely out of the game.

Lorenzo Washington (6-5, 290, r-Sr.) did not start in 2008, but he was a
full-time starter at noseguard in 2007. He will be a starter at defensive end
against the Hokies. He is a very experienced player, with 35 career games under
his belt. Like the rest of Alabama’s defensive linemen, he is big and difficult
to move off the line of scrimmage.

The Alabama linebackers are the strength of the team. The inside positions
are manned by Mike linebacker Rolando McClain (6-4, 258, Jr.) and Will
linebacker Dont’a Hightower (6-4, 255, So.). The mike position is a traditional
middle linebacker role, while the will is a weakside backer. Both players would
be defensive ends in Tech’s scheme. They have excellent pursuit skills, and they
are quite effective playing behind Alabama’s big defensive line.

The outside linebacker positions are the Sam position, which lines up on the
strongside, and the Jack position, which is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end.
Cory Reamer (6-4, 234, r-Sr.) is the starter at Sam, and he is perhaps the most
underrated defensive player on the team.

The Jack linebacker is a specialty position in Nick Saban’s defenses. When
Saban was the coach of the Miami Dolphins, he had the perfect player to man this
position: future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. He used Brandon Fanney in this role
in 2008, but Fanney left the program in the offseason. The starting job now
falls to Eryk Anders (6-2, 235, Sr.). Anders was used as a pass rusher last
year, when he registered 2.5 sacks.

The Crimson Tide haven’t recorded many sacks under Nick Saban, mostly because
they haven’t been able to find a good fit for the Jack linebacker position. Last
year’s starting Alabama starting front seven recorded just 44 tackles for loss
and 12.5 sacks. Compare that to the Virginia Tech starting front seven, which
had 69 tackles for loss and 30 sacks.

A major focus of Alabama in the offseason has been to generate more of a pass
rush. New Jack linebacker Eryk Anders had five total sacks in the two August
scrimmages, and that is a good sign for Alabama. If the Tide can get more
production out of the Jack position this year, their defense will be even better
than it was last year.

Thanks to the departure of free safety Rashad Johnson, the secondary is the
weakness of the Alabama defense. They return three starters and have plenty of
talent, but Johnson was the emotional leader and quarterback of the defense.

Justin Woodall (6-2, 221, Sr.) started at strong safety last season, where he
made 47 tackles and four interceptions. As the most experienced safety on the
team, he will move to free safety in 2009 to replace the departed Rashad
Johnson. Mark Barron (6-2, 214, So.) replaces Woodall at strong safety. Barron
played mostly special teams last year, and he was locked in a battle all month
with Robby Green (6-0, 181, So.) for the starting position. Both will probably
play against Virginia Tech.

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Alabama has a very good pair of cornerbacks in Javier Arenas (5-9, 195, Sr.)
and Kareem Jackson (6-0, 193, Jr.). Jackson has been starting since he was a
true freshman. He has intercepted four passes and broken up 14 more during his
career. He has started all but one game during his Alabama career.

Arenas was a second team All-SEC player as a cornerback last season. He broke
up seven passes last season, but his biggest contribution comes on special
teams, which we’ll cover later.

Alabama’s defensive game plan is pretty simple. They like to sell out to stop
the run on first and second down, while playing zone coverage. On third down,
Alabama has a tendency to blitz more, and they will play man-to-man in the
secondary. Nick Saban is the architect of the Tide defense, and he will blitz
nearly all the time in passing situations. The Virginia Tech offense must be
well-prepared for Alabama’s multiple front defense. They need to be able to
recognize exactly where the blitz is coming from, and Tyrod Taylor needs to know
where to go with the football.

Alabama focuses on stopping the inside run. They want to plug things up on
the inside, and funnel plays to the outside. With Terrence Cody manning the
noseguard position, and two excellent inside linebackers behind him, they have
the perfect personnel to do this.

Virginia Tech’s best strategy on offense would to attack the edges of
Alabama’s defense, particularly with speed backs like Ryan Williams and David
Wilson. The Hokies need to keep the Tide’s big defensive linemen running as much
as possible, particularly Terrence Cody. If you make them run from sideline to
sideline a lot, they could start to wear down in the fourth quarter. Running it
right up the middle into the teeth of the Alabama defense won’t serve any
purpose at all.

It’s vital that the Virginia Tech offense be able to hit big plays against
Alabama. They aren’t going to go on 80 yard, time consuming touchdown drives. If
they want to score, they need to get scores off big plays.

Take Alabama’s game against Florida for the SEC Championship, for example.
The Gators had 358 yards of total offense against Alabama. Florida struggled to
put together consistent drives, but in the second half they were able to hit
four big plays of more than 20 yards during the game. Those four plays combined
for 140 yards, and Florida converted them into 17 points. Florida managed just
14 points on drives in which they didn’t hit a big play.

Unlike last year, the Hokies have the personnel to hit for some big plays.
Ryan Williams has proved to be a playmaker during scrimmages, and David Wilson
has breakaway speed. Josh Oglesby might not be the best matchup for the Alabama
defense, but he could be more effective against certain future opponents than
Williams and Wilson.

At wide receiver, Dyrell Roberts and Xavier Boyce are most capable of making
plays in space. Tech has some big receivers like Boyce (6-4, 223), Jarrett
Boykin (6-2, 213) and Marcus Davis (6-4, 236) who are capable of making plays
over a smaller cornerback like Javier Arenas.

If you feel like it, try and keep track of how many plays of 20+ yards the
Hokies make. If they can’t hit for big plays, they aren’t going to win the
football game.

Special Teams

Alabama has arguably the best punt returner in the country in Javier Arenas.
He returned three punts for touchdowns in 2008. Arenas is the NCAA active career
leader in punt return yards and punt returns for touchdowns. He has a career
average of 13.54 yards per punt return.

Tech’s punt coverage was outstanding in 2007, but they were not very good
last year. Zach Luckett is back from his 2008 suspension, and we could see him
back in his gunner role this season. Alonzo Tweedy looked good as a gunner
during August scrimmages, and that could be the combination that Frank Beamer
elects to use against Alabama.

Even with good gunners, this is the type of game that could change on one
play. The Tech defense looks like it will be able to hold up against the Alabama
offense. It might be better to kick away from Arenas, just to make sure Alabama
doesn’t get any cheap points. A special teams touchdown could be the difference
in this game.

Arenas is also Alabama’s primary kickoff returner. He averaged 23.6 yards per
return in 2008, though he’s much more dangerous as a punt returner.

Alabama has a very good kicker in Leigh Tiffin (6-1, 212, Sr.). Tiffin was
20-of-29 last year, which isn’t a great percentage, however sometimes stats can
be deceiving. Tiffin was 16-of-19 from inside 40 yards. He has a very strong
leg, so Nick Saban trusted him with a lot of long field goal attempts last year.
He isn’t as accurate from long range, but he did make two kicks from beyond 50
yards in 2008. He is a major weapon for the Crimson Tide.

P.J. Fitzgerald (5-11, 198, Sr.) is Alabama’s punter, and he is very good as
well. He averaged 41.4 yards per punt last year. Fitzgerald has started all 40
games of his career, so he won’t be nervous when going up against the Hokies.

Fitzgerald also returns as Alabama’s holder for field goals and extra points.
Brian Selmon (6-0, 210, Sr.) is back as the Tide’s long snapper. Overall,
Alabama is very experienced at the four critical special teams positions:
kicker, punter, snapper and holder. Don’t expect any mistakes from those guys.

Conclusion

This is not the biggest game of the season for Virginia Tech. This game has
no bearing on whether the Hokies will win the ACC or go to a BCS Bowl. You know
how Will and I are. We don’t talk about the National Championship very much. If
you put yourself in a position to win your conference every year, at some point
that National Championship thing will take care of itself. If it’s this year,
great. If it’s not, then that’s fine too.

That being said, beating Alabama could do a lot for the program. This is an
Alabama team that was undefeated for most of last year, and they return most of
their defense. They are the favorite in their division of the SEC, and they are
a dark horse contender for the National Championship. Their defense is top
notch, the best the Hokies will face all season.

Alabama is also a national power that everyone in the country respects. The
Hokies haven’t fared well in games like this recently. USC in 2004, Auburn in
2004, Georgia in 2006, LSU in 2007. With the exception of the LSU game, I can
tell you exactly why Tech lost all of those games … the offense didn’t
produce. The Tech offense generally looks lost and outclassed when playing a
very fast, very talented defense that has toughness in the trenches. The Tech
defense generally holds up very well, but not the offense.

Ironically, the last extremely talented non-conference foe that the Hokies
beat was LSU in 2002, when the Hokies laid a 26-8 whipping on the Tigers in Lane
Stadium. That team was coached by current Alabama coach Nick Saban.

It was the Tech defense that held that 2004 Auburn offense (Jason Campbell,
Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown) to less than 300 yards. The Tech defense held
Georgia to less than 250 yards. The Tech defense even made the USC offense look
silly, until Xavier Adibi got hurt. However, that Tech offense hasn’t been able
to get it done against the major powers of college football.

I think the Hokies are in a better position this year to do well on the
offensive side of the ball. They don’t have to go on big scoring drives and
score 30 points, though it would be nice. They just have to look like they
belong, and hit the occasional big play. They aren’t going to push Alabama
around. I doubt the Hokies will gain over 300 yards in this game, and if they do
it won’t be by much. But if they can capitalize on their opportunities, such as
scoring off turnovers and scoring when they have a short field, their job will
be accomplished.

Defensively, I think the Hokies will hang in there just fine. The combination
of a young offensive line and inexperienced quarterback is the perfect setup for
Bud Foster’s defense. I could see Alabama coming out aggressively early, when
Foster’s defense is most vulnerable. The key for the Hokies is to keep Alabama
out of the end zone. If they can do that for the first few drives, Foster will
have a chance to make adjustments, and Tech will be able to settle in.

I would like to see the Tech offense be aggressive in this game, because they
aren’t going to score by running at Terrence Cody all day. However, that’s a
tough balancing act. You don’t want to turn the ball over in a game like this,
but you need to be aggressive enough to hit some big plays downfield.

I generally pick against the Hokies in games like this, but I feel better
about this one. They are playing themselves. Frank Beamer and Nick Saban have
the same philosophies on offense and defense. This game looks like it’s going to
come down to turnovers and hidden yardage, and Beamer and the Hokies excel in
games like that.

I also think that Virginia Tech is being disrespected this year. Ever since
Darren Evans went down with an injury, people are writing the Hokies off. Not
one of the four main ESPN college football analysts picked Tech to win the ACC,
and no one is really giving them a chance against Alabama. Sure it will be a
good game, but Tech can’t win it. That’s what it seems like many people think. I
personally like that role. The Hokies always seem to do well when no one expects
anything out of them.

I also feel like this game isn’t being hyped as much as last year’s
Clemson-Alabama game. Clemson was only ranked #10, but they had James Davis, C.J.
Spiller and a high-powered offense. Alabama was ranked #24, but they had Nick
Saban. The teams are ranked even higher in this year’s game, with two Top Ten
teams. However, the Hokies don’t have the Heisman Trophy contenders like Clemson
(the mere suggestion that Spiller is good enough to win the Heisman makes me
roll over and laugh), and they just aren’t a flashy program because of their
recent struggles on offense.

So basically, I don’t think this game is being hyped as much as last year’s
game simply because Virginia Tech is in it. People don’t think the Hokies can
get it done against a big-time team, and it’s well past time for them to be
proved wrong.

In the end, I think two guys will be the difference in the game. I see Bud
Foster holding down the inexperienced Alabama offense, and Tyrod Taylor making
just enough big plays on offense for the Hokies to sneak out of Atlanta with a
big win.

Chris Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Alabama 16

Will Stewart’s Take: I’ve been thinking about this. A lot.

It’s hard to picture either team moving the ball consistently. Alabama has
too many new blockers and an unproven quarterback, and Virginia Tech has a
well-established recent history of struggling offensively, not just against
talented defenses, but most defenses.

The offensive coordinators for the Tide and the Hokies can dream and plan and
scheme all they want to, but it’s highly likely that such efforts will be for
naught. Neither team is going to game plan themselves into sustained offensive
success.

So what does it come down to? The things that are impossible to predict in a
football game: big plays, special teams, and turnovers.

The Tide have big play capability in Julio Jones offensively and Javier
Arenas on special teams. The Hokies have big play capability in Tyrod Taylor, a
couple of receivers, and (we hope) running backs Ryan Williams and David Wilson.
Either team is capable of hitting one or more big plays.

Special teams are a wash. Alabama has capable kickers and strong return
ability in Arenas. Virginia Tech has a senior punter and a placekicker (Matt
Waldron) who, if he translates scrimmage success onto the playing field, will be
money. VT has shored up their coverage teams since last year, and the Hokies are
always capable of a big play on special teams.

Both teams have players in key positions who could commit turnovers. For the
Hokies, freshmen running backs Wilson and Williams will be toting the rock and
will be getting hit by bigger, faster players than they ever dreamed of in high
school. Fumbles are possible. For the Tide, Greg McElroy is facing his first
extended game action against a team that disguises coverages well and feasts on
inexperienced quarterbacks. McElroy could throw interceptions, and if the Hokies
somehow build a lead and the Tide starts to press offensively, it could get ugly
for Alabama. (The reverse is true, by the way; I’m no dummy.)

So it’s a crap shoot. Barring something shocking, this game should be a
slobber knocker. Neither team is sexy offensively, with their run-first,
play-action attacks, so it probably won’t be a game that the casual, simpleton
football fan with a short attention span finds entertaining. But for those with
a vested rooting interest in the game — Tide fans and Hokie fans, primarily —
this game will be tense and hard fought.

It is true that the Hokies, even as they piled up ACC championships and
ten-win seasons over the last five years, have floundered in these types of
contests — high-profile bouts against talented teams. But two things push me to
pick Tech: (1) the experience difference at quarterback … surely that will
count for something; and (2) if it’s a game that comes down to hard-to-predict
game-changing plays, then I’m going with the home team.

Gotta go with my heart on this one, although my brain is chuckling and
shaking its head.

Will’s Prediction: Hokies 20, Alabama 17

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